HC Deb 22 March 1847 vol 91 cc302-15

On the Order of the Day being read, that the House go into Committee on this Bill,


said: Sir, I take this opportunity of calling the attention of the House and the Government to a statement which was made a few nights ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, in answer to a Motion I made for returns of the number of deaths in Ireland. It will be in the recollection of the House, that upon that occasion the right hon. Gentleman stated that he had no power to get correct returns in Ireland of the number of deaths that took place there, inasmuch as no such returns were made. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman was entirely mistaken on that head, for I have received various letters from clergymen in Ireland, who state that not only is this statement contrary to the fact, but that Protestant clergymen are obliged to keep a registry of the number of burials that take place, and on the 25th of March in each year to furnish to the register of the diocese accurate Parliamentary returns of the number of burials and marriages which take place in their respective churches and churchyards. In fact, this is part of the canon law that they should do so. I will not weary the House by reading many letters, but I think it is only right to read the following, which is from the rev. John C. Archdall, rector of Newtown Barry, in the county of Wexford, and honorary secretary to the relief committee there. The rev. gentleman likewise enclosed to me a form of the registry. The Parsonage, Newtown Barry, County Wexford, Ireland, March 17, 1847. My Lord—I have read with surprise the following statement of Mr. Labouchere, in answer to your Motion for a return of deaths in Ireland:— 'Neither the Protestant nor the Roman Catholic clergyman was required to keep any list of the deaths which occurred in his parish; and if any clergyman should be found to have done it, the object would be found to be for some purpose of his own. Why were they to think that such registers were generally kept by the clergy in Ireland? Now, my Lord, Mr. Labouchere should have known that the clergy of the Church of Ireland obey the law, and that by one of the canons they are obliged to return on every 25th of March an accurate copy of the parish registry, of the baptisms, marriages, and deaths, to the registrar of the diocese; and the bishops regularly and periodically see that the duty is performed, and parchment books are furnished by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to every clergyman, and uniformity in the registry adopted in every parish in Ireland. The difficulty is to find a clergyman who has neglected it. In this parish, where every care has been taken to provide labour, and much benevolence exerted, the mortality has been, on a comparison with the two preceding years, nearly fourfold:—

From 15th September to 15th March. Deaths.
1844 to 1845 6
1845 to 1846 5
1845 to 1847 23
I believe the increase this year has arisen more from an insufficiency than actual want of food. I know nothing of the mode of registry adopted by the Roman Catholic clergy; but I am confident, from my own observation, that the deaths have been more than threefold. A peculiar feature this year is, that the burials follow the day of death, a thing hitherto unknown in Ireland. You are at liberty to use this information as you please. I have another letter from the county Galway, which runs thus:— Headford, County Galway, March 16, 1847. My Lord—In reference to your Lordship's Motion for a return of the deaths in Ireland for the three periods of six months each, from the 1st of September to 1st of March, from 1844 to 1847 inclusive, your Lordship will, I trust, permit me respectfully to suggest a mode of obtaining a faithful statement, which has most unaccountably been overlooked. In Ireland, it is quite true, as Mr. Labouchere has stated, that the parochial clergy keep no register of these matters; the Roman Catholic pauper population are in nineteen cases out of twenty consigned to the grave without even a funeral service, for in that communion when the rites of the Church for the sick and dying have been observed, but little stress is laid on the former one; indeed it would be perfectly impossible for the Roman Catholic clergy, in populous and scattered parishes, to perform this ceremony in every case, in seasons of epidemic visitations attended like the present with unusual mortality; for instance, we had in this union (of parishes) the other day sixteen bodies waiting for interment. With their other very heavy duties at this trying period, two clergymen could not possibly have performed the burial service over each in one day at different graveyards. There is a class of men in Ireland, amounting to some eight hundred, and to which there is nothing exactly similar in England; I allude to the medical officers of dispensaries. I believe there are but few nooks and corners in the land to which their labours do not extend, and with which, in their several localities, they are not intimately well acquainted. I should say that it was more particularly within their province to furnish the information which your Lordship seeks than in any other; and though it is quite true that no compulsory power exists with Government or elsewhere to oblige them to undertake this office, I am perfectly sure there is not one man among them who would not cheerfully take the trouble of the inquiry, and be flattered by being made the means of putting your Lordship into possession of the necessary information. The officers of the Irish medical charities, I may be allowed to say, have no great reason to be forward in volunteering their services, for while the ingenuity and research of the Government and their subordinates in the constitution of the relief committees have evidently been taxed to collect, without risk of omission, all parties throughout the country in any way entitled to confidence and respect to discharge this duty, physicians and surgeons alone are excluded. Gentry, clergy, justices, poor-law guardians, and highest ratepayers, with a staff of military and naval overseers, are relied on; while the surgeons of infirmaries, and the physicians of dispensaries and fever hospitals and poorhouses are considered unfit. The profession in Ireland, which as a body claims an equal respectability with any of the other learned professions in this or any other country, certainly considered this omission as a studied slight (to use no stronger expression), and with how much justice, I leave to your Lordship to judge. We do not seek either Government patronage or pay; we do not require at their hands that any undue prominence should be awarded us, in helping to work out their measures for the relief of our suffering country; but we do feel that, closely connected as we are with the sick and destitute, and possessed of the information which the nature of our duties force upon us, the studied rejection of our services upon the present pressing occasion for the co-operation of an educated and respectable body of men, is most remarkable and unaccountable. I have the honour to remain with great respect, and with gratitude for your Lordship's talented exertions for the good of our country and people, your Lordship's most obedient humble servant, WILLIAM SWAYNE LITTLE, M.D., Trinity College, Dublin, L.R.C.S. Ireland, Physician to Headford Dispensary. P.S. We have on three or four occasions latterly had official letters of inquiry on subjects connected with our public duties from this and that commission; a similar requisition in the form of a printed circular, either to the physicians themselves or to the secretaries of the institutions they conduct, would be at once attended to. I have received another letter from Mr. Henry Blake, of Clifden, on this subject:— Renvyll, Clifden, March 15, 1847. My Lord—It will be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the returns of deaths your Lordship has asked for, as the police have been instructed to register those only who are found dead out of their houses, and there is no other regular account kept, and no coroner in very many districts in the west of Ireland; but, in the meantime, I can give you an idea of what is taking place. The population of my estate is about 4,500, and the usual average of deaths has always been below the general average, which I take to be 3 per cent, or 135 yearly. During the three weeks ending the 7th instant, 68 deaths have been reported to me as having been caused by distress, besides seven or eight old people in the usual course of nature; and this, notwithstanding considerable assistance received from the benevolence of private individuals, independent of the Government works. In the remainder of the parish, and in the island of Inch-Offin, the mortality has been so great that the clergy of both persuasions estimate the deaths altogether at above 100 per week on 10,000; and in the adjoining parishes of Omey and Ballindown, forming part of the union of Clifden, in a population of about 18,000, the loss, as reported to me on Saturday by the dispensary doctor, amounts to 15 to 16 per day (i. e. 105 per week). This, your Lordship will admit, is very frightful; but it is nothing to what is likely to occur as private funds are exhausted, and the money payments on the public works suspended. There are no large farmers, I may say, to employ the people, and no means left to pay another rate, the one in progress of collection being, in fact, met from the payment of the labour on the roads; and all who have the means are emigrating.—I have the honour to remain, my Lord, your obedient servant, "HENRY BLAKE. The noble Lord exhibited a tabular form of registry used in Ireland by clergymen of the. Established Church, comprehending the name, abode, age, and date of burial of the deceased, and by whom the funeral service was performed; and concluded by comparing the efforts made by the late Government in the way of introducing supplies of food into Ireland, with the policy of the present Government in refraining from interfering with the operations of private speculators, which the noble Lord said had done great injury to the people of Ireland.


hoped that the House would not suppose, that he intended to follow the noble Lord into the subjects he had adverted to at the conclusion of his speech, and which had been so frequently under discussion in the House, namely, the policy which Her Majesty's Government had adopted with regard to the supply of food to Ireland, and the effects of that policy upon the supply. He only protested against the attempt of the noble Lord to produce an impression that the mortality in Ireland, which no one could more deeply lament than he did, was to be traced to the policy which had been pursued by the Government with respect to the supply of food. On the contrary, he (Mr. Labouchere) was daily more and more satisfied that it had been a wise and necessary policy on the part of the Government to abstain from interfering with the supply of food by the legitimate means of private enterprise. He was surprised that the noble Lord should have made these observations at a moment when, by the effect of private trade, enormous quantities of food were pouring into Ireland, and causing the fall of prices there; whereas, if the Government had adopted the opposite policy of discouraging private trade in corn, they would have aggravated the evil. He had had a letter that day which stated, that in the port of Cork there were 100 vessels with full cargoes of grain. The same was the case in Galway and Limerick, and other great ports of Ireland. He rejoiced that the Government had not yielded to the cry; and the result was, that at this period, when relief committees were established in Ireland to supply the destitute poor with food, we started with the Government de- pôts supplied with a larger quantity of provisions than ever; whilst the granaries and storehouses of private merchants contained immense quantities of provisions for the people. With regard to the returns alluded to by the noble Lord, if he had objected to them, it was not because he was desirous of concealing from the House the impression that the mortality in Ireland had been owing to the distress occasioned by the different policy pursued by the Government this year and the last; it was not on that account he objected to the returns, but because he believed it would be difficult to obtain accurate information, and he objected to inaccurate information upon a subject of this description. Whenever the Government were in possession of accurate information, they never refused to furnish it. They had procured returns of coroners' inquests, and returns from the constabulary officers in the different districts, which were laid upon the Table of the House. When the noble Lord asked what was the difference between the mortality of this year and of last year, he (Mr. Labouchere) could only say, that having applied to many persons, and particularly to Irish gentlemen who were best able to give him information upon the subject, he had been assured by them that there did not exist materials in Ireland for giving a return of that nature with such a degree of accuracy as could be relied upon. The noble Lord had observed that the Protestant clergy were obliged to keep a registry of deaths within their own parish. He (Mr. Labouchere) believed that by the canon law there was such an obligation; but he was very much deceived if that law had been generally observed throughout Ireland. This, at least, he knew, that there was no penalty to enforce the observance of a canon law of that description. He had a copy of that canon law before him, and he found the only penalty to be this:— That if the minister should be negligent to perform anything therein contained as being required of him, it should be lawful for the bishop to proceed and declare such minister as being containable of this our constitution. He believed that this penalty was not very efficacious to enforce the observance of the canon law. His objection to the Motion of the noble Lord on a former occasion entirely rested upon the fact that there existed no means by which any such returns as the noble Lord required could be accurately given.


was willing to give the Government every credit for the desire they felt to use all their exertions to relieve the extreme distress of the Irish people; but there prevailed an opinion in Ireland that the Government might have done much more than they had to provide food on the occurrence of such a dire calamity as the one which now afflicted that country. The people were without seed to sow their small holdings, and the loss of life that was still going on was excessive. He adjured the Government to come forward and arrest the hand of the destroyer, by using every possible means which the powers of government gave them, and not rest so much upon the exertions of individual charity. Let them at this crisis save the lives of the people, and then they might be justified in depending upon the interposition of private enterprise to ward off a similar calamity in future.


wished to say one word in confirmation of a statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland. His opinion was, that there could not be a correct statement made in Ireland of all persons who had been interred in the course of any one year; but still he was bound to say that, as regarded the obligation imposed upon the Protestant clergy by the canon law, he believed that it was well observed. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners issued a form to the clergy of the Church of England in Ireland, and according to that form the clergy gave a complete return of the number of burials of their own flock; but beyond that he believed no account could be furnished.


was anxious to make one or two remarks upon a statement which the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck) had more than once made in the House, and which must have been made under a total misapprehension of what were the facts of the case. The noble Lord's statement was, that he (Lord J. Russell) had pledged himself to the speculators that he would not interfere with private trade for the supply of food for Ireland. The noble Lord then went on to say that certain provisions were made last year by the late Government, there being a scarcity, which were intended to make up for the deficiency; and the noble Lord thought that the present Government ought to have made a similar provision for this year. But he considered the noble Lord totally mistaken in his statement. In the first place, he gave no pledge to the corn spe- culators not to interfere with private trade. But what Her Majesty's Government did was this: They took into consideration what was the host thing to be done in consequence of the failure of the potato crop in Ireland, in order to obtain a sufficient supply of food for the people of that country, and they came to the opinion that the best course for them to pursue was not to import food into Ireland, and not to compete with private enterprise in the markets of the world. He had given his opinion on a former occasion with regard to what was done by the late Government last year; but the noble Lord was quite mistaken when he supposed that the late Government made provision to supply food to meet the wants of the Irish people. What the late Government did was to order a certain amount of money to be issued from the Treasury for the purpose of purchasing Indian corn, that it might be introduced into Ireland, and be added to the common food of the people; and in so doing, he conceived that the late Government performed a great and important service. But the same thing could not be repeated, because it was obvious that, when once Indian corn had been introduced into Ireland, the speculators would immediately ask the Government whether it were their intention to compete with them in the supply of that article of food or not. The Government was necessarily bound to state what their course would be. He believed the purchases were made in order that a new article of food should be introduced into Ireland, and not with the notion that the Government should undertake to feed the people of that country. He never heard such a statement made, nor did he believe that the introduction of Indian corn was for that object. He would read to the House a letter which had been addressed to Mr. Trevelyan, Secretary to the Treasury, and which, he thought, would show that the course pursued by the Government had been the correct course:— Cork, March 19. Sir—Since my respects of the 12th inst., the arrivals of Indian corn at this port have been unprecedented. There are at present over 100 sail, containing an aggregate amount of breadstuff's not short of 20,000 tons, afloat in our harbour. As I before advised you, the stocks of dealers here have been largely accumulating for the last month, and it is now apparent that they have quite overshot the mark in speculation—maize, which a month since brought freely 18l. per ton, being this day offered in small parcels at 15l.; and I shall not be surprised to see it considerably lower, if any great proportion of the present arrivals be forced upon the market, which is by no means improbable. Still, some parties here continue to hold out, and would have it appear that the depression is only temporary; I trust, sincerely, that they may be mistaken. I regret to add to this cheering intelligence that fever is spreading rapidly here amongst all classes; our fever hospitals are crowded to excess, and over 300 extra cases in the most populous part of the city cannot obtain admission from want of room. P.S. Since writing the foregoing, our special messenger has returned from the Cove of Cork, and reports the number of arrivals, chiefly within the last twenty-four hours, as even more numerous than I supposed; but, the weather being thick and stormy, it has not yet been possible accurately to ascertain the number. His (Lord J. Russell's) belief was, that a much greater quantity of Indian corn had arrived and been secured in Ireland for supplying the wants of the people till the period of next harvest, than would have been introduced if the Government had undertaken to provide them with food.


said, that after what had been stated by the right hon. the Recorder of the city of Dublin, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) would have no objection to produce the returns of the mortality among the flocks of the Protestant clergy, whose registries the right hon. and learned Recorder said were accurately kept, although the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had declared that there was no dependence to be placed on them.


replied, that what the noble Lord the Member for Lynn asked for, was a return of the mortality which had taken place among the people of Ireland, during this and the preceding year. Now, what the right hon. and learned Recorder stated, was, that the Protestant clergy did keep a registry, but it was only of the deaths of persons belonging to their own persuasion; that was not a very satisfactory answer to a request for a return of the deaths among the whole population. But, if the noble Lord thought it of any importance to have a comparative statement of the mortality among the members of the Church of England in Ireland during the two periods, he, if it could be given, should have no objection to produce it.


had the fullest confidence in Her Majesty's Government that they would do everything they could to rescue the people of Ireland from starvation; but he apprehended the greatest danger would rise from the change that was now taking place by the discharging the people from the public works. Many would be thereby rendered destitute of employment; and the severest distress, and even loss of life, would, he greatly feared, ensue from the system which Government had thought it their duty to adopt.


wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland a question. It had been stated in the papers, and was generally believed, that the Government had sent over M. Soyer to make soup for the Irish people, and that M. Soyer had engaged to assist them in that occupation and to distribute the soup to upwards of 100 men, and at a very considerable expense. He desired to know from the right hon. Gentleman if M. Soyer really had been sent over, if the attendant expense was incurred by the public, and whether there was any reason to believe that the experiment had answered?


regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not given the customary notice that it was his intention to ask a question. [Mr. COLLETT: It is a matter of public notoriety.] M. Soyer had been sent over; he was in communication with the Relief Commissioners; and he conceived that the suggestion had proved extremely valuable. He was not quite sure, but his impression was, that the expenses of M. Soyer's first experiments were paid out of private subscriptions; and that that having been found perfectly successful, the suggestion was adopted by the Relief Commissioners. While upon his legs he would say one word in connexion with what fell from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. V. Stuart). He was quite aware that, do what they could, the transition state through which a great portion of the population would pass when employment could no longer be furnished to them on the public works, and before other occupation was provided, must be accompanied by great distress and severe hardship. All he could say was, that no exertion would be spared to alleviate that inevitable distress. The Relief Commissioners at Dulin were exerting themselves to the utmost to get the new system into operation as soon as possible. In terminating the employment on the public works, a large discretionary power was permitted, and that power would be exercised to avert, as far as practicable, those serious consequences which the hon. Gentleman supposed would ensue.


feared that the results would be most disastrous, and doubted if the best measures were being taken to meet them. The people should be at once employed in the cultivation of the soil. He was not in the habit of demanding from this country any unnecessary assistance; but he must now say, that in those cases where the seed was not provided by the landlords, it was the bounden duty of the Government to interfere. In this way only could they avoid the recurrence next year of that calamity with which Ireland had been afflicted this year. It would be a very sorry excuse for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1848, if he came down to ask for another grant to feed the people, to say that he had depended upon the landlords, and that having leaned upon a broken reed, he had been disappointed. The Government, no doubt, deserved great credit for the courage displayed in refusing to interfere with private enterprise; but this principle of action, under present circumstances, might be carried too far.


had one observation to make in reference to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the noble Lord the Member for Lynn. It was extremely advisable that it should be distinctly understood from the returns which had been laid on the Table, what were the facts, with regard to the supply of food, furnished by Her Majesty's Ministers to the service of the people of Ireland, and the means taken for the distribution of those supplies, in comparison with what had been done previous to the accesssion of the present Government to power. It appeared that, under the administration of the late Government, there were 93 depôts established, and that these had been reduced by the present Government to 24 depôts. It further appeared that, in November and December, under the present system, 638,932 lb. of meal had been distributed, and that, in the two months almost immediately previous, under the former system, there had been distributed so much as 23,257,000 lb. This was exactly the amount of the difference between the two systems. He would not discuss the policy of the one, or the impolicy of the other. He did not deny that many considerations must influence their view of the subject; but when Her Majesty's Ministers attempted to impress the country with the conviction, that instead of having diminished the means of distribution provided by the late Government, those means had been sustained and even increased, it was quite necessary it should be made known, that where there had formerly been 93 depôts, there were now only 24; and, that while in the months of June and July, 23,257,000 odd pounds of meal had been conveyed to Ireland, in the months of November and December only 68,650 1b. had been imported. It was very well for the noble Lord to tell them that the harbours of Ireland were crowded with corn-laden vessels, and that there were 100 sail of merchantmen bearing 20,000 tons of food to the people. That might be very true; but the question was whether, when the steed was stolen, they were not now taking that excessive care of the stable, which was proverbially unnecessary and unfruitful. The statement of his noble Friend the Member for Lynn was, that they had reduced the population by having lessened the number of the staff before employed to distribute the means of subsistence to the destitute; and when such a reply as that which they had heard was given, it was only right that the true state of the case should be understood. What was the inference to be drawn from these facts was quite another question; such were the facts, and no sufficient answer to them was to be found in the declaration of the noble Lord the First Minister, that supplies were fast arriving in Ireland. The moral of the story was apparent: the Government had trusted to those favourite principles of political economy which might be very efficient, but which had only been proved to be efficacious when they had reduced the population a million.


thought that the hon. Gentleman had been arguing on a very obvious fallacy. The two months during which the large supply mentioned by the hon. Gentleman had been provided, were the months previous to the harvest, and before the potato crop was gathered; and the two subsequent months, when the supply was not so great, were those months when the natural resources of the country had become fully available in the alleviation of the prevalent distress. The circumstances marking the two periods were therefore very dissimilar; and the inference drawn by the hon. Gentleman was consequently altogether unfounded. The hon. Gentleman had also drawn a comparison unfavourable to the present Government between the measures taken by the late and the present Administration in reference to the number of depôts established throughout the country. If a little more trouble had been taken in the inquiry, it would have been found that very opposite circumstances had been compared. The system pursued by the late Government was to establish not only the large reserve depôts, but smaller depôts, consisting sometimes of not more than a few sacks, in those districts where facilities were offered by the presence of coast-guard stations or barracks. These precautions were, originally, perhaps, necessary; but afterwards, when their utility ceased, the smaller depôts were abolished. And so far from any censure being deserved, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that the number of the large and important depôts had been more than doubled since the accession of the present Government to office. Comparing like with like, the hon. Gentleman would find that the number of depôts had been considerably increased. Either from private supplies, or the Government depôts, there was now no part of Ireland where food was not distributed. Since the beginning of January, 7,000,000 of rations had been served by the Government; and from the Government mills and the Government bakeries at present the people were fed daily at the rate of 266,000 persons. He had stated enough, he thought, to show the House how unfounded was the hon. Gentleman's complaint; but he would read a statement, showing the benefits of the system that had been pursued this year, contained in an extract from a letter of the Dean of Achonry, who said— I beg to take this opportunity of bearing my testimony to the justness of the views taken by the Commisary General in reference to the mode of providing food at the present emergency. I have had opportunities of witnessing the results of the different systems. In one instance, I know of 50l. having been expended in selling meal at a loss below cost price; and no sooner was the fund exhausted than the retail dealers, who had been obliged in some instances to give up selling, recommenced at unusually high prices to make up for lost time; and in some cases the meal thus sold had been obtained at the cheap depôt while it continued open. Thus the poor were left in a worse case than if there had been no interference. In my own case, although I had doubts at first as to the expediency of the plan, I have seen the beneficial results of acting in accordance with the regulations of the Commissary General. I have sold at the house of a servant, on my land, meal to the amount of 200l. (besides rice, cheese, and other provisions); and this has not cost me 1s. (except the inconvenience of keeping about 30l. afloat). By adding 1l. per ton to the price paid at the mill (at a distance of ten miles), I have covered all expenses, and provided for a poor car-man (with a family of twelve), and for the person who weighs and sells the meal (with eight in family), wages to the amount of 4l. each within ten weeks. The advantage to the neighbourhood has been very great. For a mile in every direction around me, the private dealers sell at a reasonable profit. If I had sold at a loss (supposing I could have afforded it), I should have stopped the private dealers, and thereby have limited the supply in the country; and if I had not sold at all, prices would have been higher in the neighbourhood, as they are in other parts of the district. I consider those facts conclusive on the subject now so much discussed.


would suggest whether it was not possible to send biscuits to Ireland. In many parts of Ireland, as he had heard, they were actually using Indian corn without being dressed, which was likely to result in all kinds of diseases. They ought to have the salutary and portable food that biscuits supplied.


stated, that a very considerable quantity of biscuit was now sent by the Government to Ireland.